by Del Williams
For years, corporate managers have struggled to comply with OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) regulations. According to OSHA, there are 650,000 hazardous chemical products in the U.S., more than 30 million potentially exposed workers, with the HCS applying to more than three million American workplaces.
"Employees have a right to know the hazards and the identities of the chemicals they are exposed to under the requirements of the HCS" and "all in-plant containers of hazardous chemicals must always be labeled," states OSHA in a March 2004 executive summary of Hazard Communication in the 21st Century Workplace. With more than 7,000 OSHA citations and more than $1.3 million in penalties issued for HCS violations in 2003, OSHA's seriousness about enforcing the HCS is made clear.
Corporate managers are discovering new methods of meeting OSHA's HCS requirements, allowing them to not only improve the quality and consistency of their hazard communication labeling, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), and employee training, but also to significantly cut costs and boost efficiency.
One system, the RTKV2 HazCom Chemical Labeling software with MSDS management and online database access, is replacing time- and labor-intensive methods such as thumbing through safety catalogs, handwriting labels and contacting manufacturers one-by-one to obtain current MSDSs. Offered by Somerset, Wis.-based MaxiSoft, the RTKV2 HazCom labeling system simplifies compliance for those responsible for HazCom safety.
While printing RTK signs and labels of the appropriate size and content is key to complying with OSHA HCS regulation, doing so is often made immensely more difficult when having to update hundreds or perhaps thousands of MSDSs, often four to eight pages each, filled with obscure technical data, from which relevant labeling data may have to be distilled. Recently, Andre Meacham's company Lagoon Corp. underwent a rigorous three-week, eight-hour-a-day OSHA inspection targeting HCS regulation, of which MSDSs were a critical aspect.
Meacham faced a daunting compliance project leading up to the OSHA inspection. The challenge was that nearly every employee -- from those handling paints, pesticides and lubricants to those tending food stands, games and rides who used cleansers -- came in contact with secondary containers that required HCS-compliant labeling as well as accessible, up-to-date MSDSs.
Lagoon Corp.'s prior system of labeling and hazard communication was burdensome, requiring individually handwriting voluminous data on each label: chemical names, reactivity, flammability, type of personal protection equipment, etc. -- all done by hand for every label produced, and redone when an update was needed.
Even more disheartening was the prospect of reviewing more than a thousand MSDSs to see which chemicals were still used, and contacting the manufacturer to obtain the latest MSDSs by fax. The current MSDSs would then have to be read, and the pertinent info typed into a template, to be used for handwriting onto labels.
Rather than weed through volumes of MSDSs to decide which had to be updated and manually tracking down the necessary info, Meacham relied on MaxiSoft software with online access to 160,000 MSDS records. Downloadable to his computer for 24-hour access, and available by subscription, these MSDSs were continuously updated by the chemical manufacturers to ensure accuracy and compliance.
"With the system, I spend just one-tenth the time I would've spent handling labels and MSDSs, had I gone the traditional route," says Meacham. "When I get calls requesting new or replacement labels, they're printing before I hang up the phone. Thankfully, the days of hand writing labels or updating MSDSs by fax, company-by-company, are gone."
To streamline the entire process and make preventive safety more achievable across his organization, Meacham took things a step further. Understanding that his workforce was tempted to ignore existing MSDSs due to their length and technicality, he asked MaxiSoft to extract the most relevant info for use in additional one-page, quick reference sheets for employees, available to them in the field with department-specific focus.
"Now that employees have just the most useful "right-to-know" info at hand - such as first aid, personal protective equipment, spill containment and reactivity with other chemicals, they are routinely referring to the quick reference sheets before starting new assignments," explains Meacham. "We expect significant benefits down the road in terms of reduced injuries, claims and workers comp."
The immediate benefits of the entire HazCom labeling and MSDS software package, however, has been much more tangible: 100 percent OSHA compliance.
In his search for a better system of meeting HCS regulations, the safety specialist turned to MaxiSoft's Windows-based software program, which allows him to print custom adhesive-backed labels and signs to match his existing formats, using his PC, printer and appropriate print media. With the software comes a database of the 1,300 most commonly used industrial chemicals, searchable not only by chemical name and synonym but also by UN, CAS, DOT, CHRIS and STCC numbers for quick retrieval. The data is automatically sized, formatted, editable by mouseclick and applied to Right-to-Know labels.
Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, California.